Testing rules make skiers think twice about trip to the snow, operators say

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Mandatory COVID tests may be putting skiers off a trip to the snow, some operators fear, as the Victorian season ramps up after a quiet Queens Birthday weekend.

As Melburnians emerge from the mid-winter lockdown, resorts in Victoria are hoping to become a bustling winter attraction.

Jianfeng Ruan (left) and Zi Tao from Melbourne display their negative COVID-19 test text message as they enjoy their first runs of the season at Mount Buller.Credit:Jordan Mountain/Mount Buller

But on the back of new restrictions, including the requirement to have a COVID test 72 hours before hitting the slopes, bookings and gear hire have been softer than operators expected.

Rob Aivatoglou, who runs George’s ski hire in the heart of the Mount Buller village and just 20 metres from the nearest lift, fears skiers have been put off.

“There are a lot of people booked but there’s no doubt that the COVID test has deterred some customers,” he said.

He said he was frustrated by the testing requirement given NSW resorts Perisher and Thredbo, who enjoyed a bumper opening season last weekend, do not have the same testing regime.

“It’s frustrating and disappointing that we’re being subject to this strongest requirement,” he said.

“Perisher and Thredbo recorded their biggest ever opening weekend, but here in the Victorian resorts it’s been deadly quiet.”

The Victorian ski season was cancelled last year after the second wave of the coronavirus made the practice untenable, according to health authorities.

Victoria’s ski industry, led by the Mount Buller, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham resorts, contributes almost $800 million annually to local economies, according to a 2017 government report. About 8000 seasonal jobs are created every year.

Snow fanatic Llewellyn Phillips was “over the moon” to get back onto the mountain on Friday.

But he thought his COVID test was unnecessary, and found himself constantly monitoring the government’s press conferences to make sure he didn’t inadvertently breach a requirement before hitting the slopes.

“I’m not happy about it, but if that’s what it takes to get onto the mountain. It seemed like a waste of valuable resources,” he said.

He said it also seems unfair that resort staff had to man the checkpoints on the way onto the mountain

“There wasn’t that many people on Friday – I was really surprised,” he said.

Jaye Fatchen, whose bar and cafe Milch in Falls Creek said they’ve been seeing people coming down from NSW to visit the field but isn’t expecting a bombardment of fresh visitors this weekend.

“We’re really in luck with the visitors, lots of people from NSW and Sydney, so Falls Creek is well supported,” she said.

“It’s difficult for people coming from other states who have never had to wear masks to understand what Victoria has been though.”

Sam Worpel has worked the last five seasons in the Victorian ski fields while working off seasons in Japan and Canada.

He said Mount Hotham hadn’t seen a lot of bookings because of the impact of the travel radius around Melbourne, but they were expecting a bumper weekend.

“This weekend we’re expecting quite a lot,” he said. “It’s looking much more like a snow season.”

He’d seen a bit of confusion amongst Melburnians who were worried about being texted before heading up, but that staff working on the mountain were carefully abiding by the requirements.

“I think at the end of the day people just want to have a good day.”


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